A 3D printer won’t just magically create objects on its own, it needs to be told what to create. The way you tell a printer what to make is by digitally designing an object and sending it to the printer via a computer. In this lesson you will begin learning how to create your own CAD (Computer Aided Design) files with an easy to use modeling software tool called Tinkercad.
Before starting with 3D design, let’s look at some key differences between 2D and 3D design. This may sound obvious but the most significant difference is the addition of the 3rd dimension. When you draw on a piece of paper, you are working in a 2D space. That is, you can move your pen left and right, and you can move your pen forward and backward on the paper.
Typically, we say that “left and right” movements are along the “X” axis. Forward and backward movements are along the “Y” axis. This should be familiar to you if you have taken algebra classes.
When you design in 3D, we add a third dimension. This dimension would be if you lifted your pen up and down off the surface of the paper. We call this vertical lift, the “Z” axis.
Next, let’s take a look at Tinkercad!
Tinkercad is our tool of choice for getting started in 3D design and printing. You will use Tinkercad to design 3D objects, often called “Things”, that can then be printed on the 3D printer. It is beginner-friendly, but also has a wide range of capabilities for more advanced design projects. Best of all, Tinkercad is free and runs in a web browser so you can use it on nearly any computer!
You can use Tinkercad to design objects from scratch or to remix (modify) existing Things (3D files) that other people have designed and shared.
Let’s get started by watching an introduction video:
Next, create an account on Tinkercad so you can begin exploring this tool.
You must use Google Chrome for Tinkercad, not Safari or Internet Explorer.
First, visit https://tinkercad.com/ in a Google Chrome browser.
Click on the “Join Now” button in the top right corner.
Once you click Join Now, create an account using your DHFTC email address.
Now that you have a Tinkercad account, you will walk through some of the tutorials they provide for you in order to become comfortable with the design interface. These tutorials are important because they will teach you exactly how to use Tinkercad to design 3D objects.
Once you’ve signed in to Tinkercad, you’ll see a dashboard at the top of the page with an option that says Learn. When you click this button, you’ll navigate to a page that has Tinkercad’s Starters tutorials.
The first tutorial is called Place It!. Click the thumbnail link and pay attention to the Tutorial Instructions, which can be found at the bottom of the screen, and the Control Panel, on the left-hand side of the workspace.
Once you complete the tutorial’s instructions, click the Next button on the left side of your screen and watch the confetti fly! Then click Done and Continue to move on to the next tutorial.
There are 7 tutorials in the Starters collection. Complete them all to become comfortable creating basic forms in Tinkercad:
Now that you’ve got the general feel, you can start creating some more exciting objects. Navigate back to the Learn menu via the dashboard at the top of your screen.
You’ll be brought back to your Starters tutorials, but the next option on the top menu reads Lessons. Click that link.
Here, you’ll find a sample of simple prompts for objects you can make in Tinkercad. Like the Starters tutorials, there are helpful instructions on the left side of your interface.
Complete at least four of these lessons to take your 3D modeling skills to the next level! You can find a complete set of lessons here. They’re all fun, but we recommend the following:
Now that you’ve gone through the basic tutorials, it’s time to create your first 3D design! You’re going to create a custom keychain with your name on it. You won’t be creating your design from scratch — instead, you’ll modify a base template. This remixing process is an effective way to practice your design skills!
Click on this link to the template you will use for your keychain: Keychain Template-Tinkercad. As long as you are logged into Tinkercad this should open under your account.
Once you have the file open, click the “Copy & Tinker” button:
When the template appears on your workplane, you can begin customizing. To access letters or numbers, click “Basic Shapes” and then “Text” in the right sidebar.
DO NOT alter the size of the keychain without first talking with an instructor! They can help you if you have a name that is too long to fit.
When you have completed your design, it should look something like this.
Make sure that there are no stray objects anywhere on your workplane because those will cause your print to fail.
After checking your workplane for stray objects, select all objects in your design by clicking and dragging over them to highlight them all in blue.
Once all the objects of your design are highlighted in blue, click the “Group” button at the top of the Tinkercad window.
When properly grouped, your design will be all one color. It is now one object and is ready to be downloaded for printing.
When you are ready to print your design, save and download the design by following these steps:
To save and rename your design, click on your design’s name at the top left of the workplane and rename it. If you’re in a DHF program, follow your facilitator’s directions for how to name the file.
Then, click “Export” on the right sidebar.
Choose whether you want to download everything in the workplane or the selected shape. Make sure your keychain is selected and download as a .STL file.
You’ll know that your file successfully downloaded when you see it appear in the bottom of the Chrome window in a gray bar.